Category Archives: Jazz

The Day I Chose Jazz Over Basketball (or: Thank You, Max Roach)

Yesterday would have been jazz drummer and legend Max Roach‘s 90th birthday.  Here’s my story about the time I saw Max Roach play at MIT.

I took a longer than usual Thanksgiving break in the fall of 1993, staying in San Mateo for a extra couple of days.  The Tuesday after Thanksgiving I headed back to Boston.  I had let Nate Berndt, captain of our intramural basketball team, know that I wouldn’t be able to play in that night’s game, as I would be getting back in town that evening.  Of course, the flight was on time and I got back to my apartment quickly, so I decided to head over to the fraternity house to hang out.  It wasn’t too cold (for late November), so I decided to walk.  Along the way, somewhere between MIT and ADP, I ran across several of my brothers (Mithran, Alex, and Tank) heading the other way (towards campus).  They asked me if I wanted to go see Max Roach, and since I knew he was a jazz musician, I said yes.  I turned around and joined my friends.

Along the way we passed Nate Berndt, basketball in hand, returning from the intramural game.  Nate said something along the lines of “Why weren’t you at the game!  It looks like you got back in town in time!”  and I quickly said something about going to see jazz on campus.  Nate, if you’re reading this, I punted IM basketball that night to go see Max Roach!

So Alex, Mithran, Tank, and I found our way to Killian Hall, a room at MIT used for smaller performances and presentations.  It’s not a lecture hall–it doesn’t have permanent seats or tiered seating.  It’s not too big, either, seating around a hundred people.  It’s definitely an intimate setting, especially compared to the venues where I had seen other jazz musicians play: Bobby Watson at Berklee and Clark Terry at Harvard.  I don’t remember there being a large audience either–my brothers and I sat near the front of the room.  But what I do remember was Max Roach.

There are two things I remember vividly about seeing Max Roach at MIT.  The first was the woman a row in front of us who kept grunting to the music, “huuuh, I feel you Max!”  Alex kept looking at me like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of these jazz fans.  The other thing I vividly remember was Max Roach playing the hi-hat.  That’s it.  At one point he played a number on JUST the hi-hat.  Go ahead and google “Max Roach hi-hat” to find a youtube clip of him, but what’s on the interwebs pales in comparison to what I saw.  I saw Max Roach play the hi-hat.  He played the cymbals.  He played them open, he played them closed.  Then he played the stand!  Down the stand, up the stand.  He played every piece of that hi-hat.  And I was impressed.

I didn’t really know who Max Roach was that night, just that he was a jazz drummer (and from what I saw a damn good one).  Years later, as my knowledge of jazz grew, I learned how important Max was to bebop and hard bop.  In hindsight I saw how cool it was that I saw Max Roach play the hi-hat.  I haven’t gone to a lot of concerts in my time.  I have seen Bob Dylan play, but that was before I was really a Dylan fan.  A bit over a year ago I saw Melissa Etheridge play, and her show had a larger immediate impact (at the time I told Santina it was f-ing awesome).  But I will always think back fondly to that Tuesday evening in November at MIT, and I will think:

I saw Max Roach play the hi-hat!

Thank you, Max.

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